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  • Alistair Tait

Will we still shake hands in the new golf normal?

It’s a time-honoured tradition. Win or lose on the links and you shake hands. Happens at all levels of golf, from the professional game to the amateur game.

Will we still do so when this coronavirus finally clears up?

Many of us are going to think twice. Same with high fives, low fives, medium fives and even those irritating knuckle kisses. Ditto for other things we often do in a normal round that we take for granted.

My last round was on March 15 in the Woburn Monthly medal. (Don't ask!) The competition took place before strict guidelines came into force about not touching flagsticks, bunker rakes, ball washers etc. We had been told to avoid shaking hands, but old habits die hard.

Even though I knew the no shaking hands guideline, I couldn’t help myself. As I walked into the Woburn clubhouse, a friend was walking towards me. He said: “Hi Ali,” and immediately stuck out his hand. I did what I’ve been doing my whole life: I shook his hand.

It was only in mid shake I realised we’d acted improperly in the circumstances. His is the last hand I shook. Will I shake another going forward?

Sounds trivial, doesn’t it? Considering what we’re currently going through, it’s no trivial matter. How do we know when playing companions, competitors, offer their hands in future that they are free from infections, viruses, etc.? How do we know when those hands were last washed?

Hand washing, as opposed to hand-wringing after another bad round, should be a part of personal hygiene we all take seriously in future so we don’t pass something unwanted on to others. It’s obviously something we obviously should have paid more attention to previously.

I learned that from Nepi, but admit I didn’t take it to heart as fully as I should have.

I was fortunate to make the trip of a lifetime in 2016. I covered both golf competitions in the Olympic Games. My better half joined me for the second week of the Olympic golf competition before we travelled to Peru to do the Inca Trail. Stick with me, I’m getting to the point.

There were 11 of us on the four-day hike to Machu Picchu along with two guides and a team of porters. Nepi was our brilliant lead guide. We met up in Cusco on the eve of the trek and Nepi outlined our trek, stopping points, camping arrangements, kit, etc. He finished his talk with a very simple plea.

“It’s very important over the next few days that we wash our hands as much as possible. This is very important for all of us – for you, me and the porters. We don’t want anyone getting sick, so please wash your hands always.”

We did, and Nepi made sure of it. He drummed it into us every day. Every morning and every evening there was a bucket of water outside our tents. We didn’t leave or enter the tents without washing our hands. We were made to wash our hands before every meal, and after every trip to the nearest point of relief. We did and no one got sick.

Back to golf. Are we going to wash our hands after every time we touch the flagstick, every time we rake a bunker, every time we use a ball washer? I and many others go out of our way to pick up litter lying on the course. Will we do that in future? Are we going to carry small bottles of hand sanitiser in our golf bags?

Tell you what, the new rule about not removing the flagstick couldn’t have been timelier. There seemed to be split in my groups at Woburn over whether to leave it in or take it out. I’m guessing after this more might just putt with the flagstick in the hole.

As for shaking hands? Maybe elbow bumps really are the way forward. Just make sure the person you’re elbow bumping with has washed them first….

(Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour.)

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